“Together we can create magical spaces and events which transform both us and our wider world.”
EDWARD CARPENTER COMMUNITY WEBSITE
“The EuroFaeries is a movement of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered people and their supporters, who believe that all gay people have a unique identity and cultural heritage within humanity.” EUROFAERIES WEBSITE
common themes in queer community spaces:
playfulness *** creativity *** connection with nature
gender fluidity *** heart sharing *** physical touch and intimacy
co-creation *** cooperation *** support and affection
consensus *** drumming and dancing *** good food
Away from the bright city lights and the commercial drive of the gay scene, some queers have been exploring alternative ways of living in community since the 1970s, when, early into our political liberation story, there were already many who felt that the tendency to assimilation, consumerism and hedonism amongst gay people was restricting our exploration of who we are, our authentic self expression and the quality of what we share with each other.
‘There’s no difference between us and straights other than what we do in bed’ is a belief quite widely held amongst us. Harry Hay, one of the original Radical Faeries, felt that the reverse to be true. He said that when it comes to sex we are just like the heteros… it’s everything else about us that is different! He went so far as to call queers ‘a separate people whose time has come’ and he encouraged guys to slough off the ‘ugly green frogskin of heteroconformity’ to reveal the faerie prince/princess beneath.
The Radical Faeries first gathered in the desert in the USA in 1979: billed as ‘a spiritual conference…. exploring breakthroughs in gay consciousness’, 200 men sat in a circle, passed a talisman and talked about their lives and their beliefs. A new style of queer community was born…. where meeting from the heart, listening non-judgementally to each other, loving large numbers of people at once, and honouring our connection with the earth, creates safe space where the emotional load of growing up queer in a hostile world can be discharged and the talents of the playful, sexy, creative soul in us can emerge. The first Faerie circle ended up as a mud covered mass of dancing naked bodies celebrating finding each other. ‘Radical’ refers to getting to the root of who we are as well as its modern sense of being ‘out there’. ‘Faerie’ invokes the magical, and mischievous, elemental creatures of myth and folklore – the ‘Little People’ who weave mysterious energies in their dancing and their play, whose powers are such that the humans best show them respect.
The American Faeries soon earned their reputation for being ‘out there’ – colonies of shamans, witches, healers and hippy queers formed in the US (the first being Short Mountain in Tennessee which hosts the largest gathering on the faerie calender every year in May: the Beltane gathering where 600 queers go wild in the country), while the equivalent strand in UK life produced a more genteel manifestation of this radical spirit – the more formally titled Edward Carpenter Community, formed 30 years ago in 1985 just as the lgbt community was entering the dark years of HIV/AIDS. The ECC defines itself as ‘a network of gay men committed to principles of caring, trusting, personal growth, sharing and creativity.’ Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was an English philosopher who wrote extensively about ‘the intermediate sex’. His study of homosexuality amongst native populations of the world highlighted how natural and commonly occurring the so-called deviance has always been, and also documented spiritual/shamanic role of genderqueer individuals in indigenous tribes. He formed a belief that gay men and women have certain perspectives and knowledge that society needs. He believed us to be the vanguard of a new humanity, bringing a time where longheld taboos and fears around the body and sex would be cleared away, to make way for love and affection to take their rightful place at the centre of human life, instead of money and commerce.
Meeting in youth hostels and land based community settlements in the UK, the ECC has not established a permanent residential home but has continued to offer retreats for gay men through three decades. Exploring specific themes or simply coming together to live as community in beautiful places in nature, ECC weeks are focussed on building brotherhood, sharing affection and becoming more aware of the gifts and talents we bring to the world. In 2015 the ECC is offering four retreats, with the week at Laurieston Hall in south west Scotland 15-22 August specifically focussed on the 30 year journey of the community.
With the ECC pursuing the creation of community spaces in the UK, it was on the European mainland that the Radical Faeries landed in Europe – in fact on the North Sea island Terschelling, off the Dutch coast – in 1995. Called into being by guys who had experienced the high magic and community spirit of the American Faeries, the Eurofaeries were born at a 10 day celebration of all things queer, camp and wonderful. Before long there were both summer and winter gatherings, with men from many countries and a broad range of backgrounds coming together to share their stories, their emotions and their dreams. English became the communal language as it was the one most could speak, but the need to honour the different languages and cultural backgrounds of the group produced a very intimate, caring environment that brought powerful healing into men’s lives. So successful were these gatherings that within a decade enough money had been donated by participants to enable the purchase of a piece of land in northern France and the first Eurofaerie sanctuary, Folleterre, was born in 2005. Tucked away in the forest, in the Vosges mountains, Folleterre hosts gatherings from March to October, and is a location where we can disappear from the madness of modern life into a simpler, enchanted, reality. Women and Trans people are also part of the tribe now, though predominantly the faerie spirit still attracts gay men. This year the Eurofaeries are celebrating 20 years of gatherings and 10 of sanctuary with ‘a string of pearls’ – gatherings with various themes happening all summer on the sanctuary land. There is a farmhouse with large barn where many can sleep, camping spaces and lots of magical forest, lakes and glorious nature to explore. The numbers at gatherings varies from intimate affairs to maximum numbers around 70. Looking after the land as well as each other has become part of the Eurofaerie journey, and Folleterre is thriving as a pink lighthouse open to all queers who want to experience a different kind of connection to what our city scenes can offer.
“Folleterre aims to be a pink lighthouse where queers expand our special gifts and nature, explore the relationship between sexuality and spirit, and aims to provide a place of safety, homecoming, inspiration – a home for an ever-growing family of kindred souls. Folleterre is a sanctuary from the materialism and consumerism of much of gay life, a place for respite and healing in the beauty of nature. This is a home where we can be gentle and intimate together and also as wild and creative as our spirits move us to be. Much skill sharing happens here, learning from each other in areas such as massage, building, cooking, gardening, make-up, performance……”
Also 10 years ago a number of British participants in the Eurofaerie gatherings decided to pull together and create Faerie space in the UK. There was a desire to create community that was welcoming to queers of all genders, unlike the ECC, and so the Albion Faeries were born … at a gathering in Northumberland at Featherstone Castle, which has now become a regular meeting place for gatherings of up to 50/60 queers creating a zone of self-expression, tribal exploration and altered realities! The Albion Fae are heading to our enchanted castle twice this year, with our first ever Autumn Gathering coming up 20-29 October, plus holding a summer solstice camp at a farm situated just underneath Glastonbury Tor. While the ECC seems to attract predominantly white, middle aged (and older) men, with a comfortable fireside culture, the arrival in the UK of Faeries has opened up spaces where more radical explorations take place, this attracting guys aged from 20 to 80 who are interested in diving into their emotional and spiritual nature as well as their sexual, and attracting more women too. There is much crossover between the Albion Faeries and the ECC, and also with another community venture – Queer Pagan Camp, which holds 3 or 4 get togethers in the countryside each year, and in which women play a much bigger role and there is a more diversified mix of genders.
All these groups share something crucial in common: they are all open to the discovery of the full range of our queer gifts and talents, which may be cultural, spiritual, emotional, educational ….. in these spaces we re-write the rules of what it means to be gay: in faerie space so much so that there are no rules! Faeries create community via consensus, without leaders, without dogmas and creeds. These spaces allow us to explore and expand our queer nature, to find out who we are and what we can be in the world. The love that opens and flows in these spaces suggests Edward Carpenter may have been onto something. Freed from societal expectations and gay scene pressures, when queers open their hearts to each other, reveal their vulnerability and rise in strength together, lives change, people transform, light expands and our true place in the human tribe becomes clearer. The energy in these spaces is rich, loving and joyful, and reveals how natural it is for us to become ecstatic and blissful together, removing the need for stimulants to open us to the heights of pleasure – getting there instead by simply being open with each other in love and trust.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of gay sex in the UK, and the soul searching that is inevitably going to prompt in our gay culture, the experiences and lessons learnt in these community spaces have much to reveal to the rest of gay life. Gay people do not have to be content with marriage as the ultimate goal of our liberation – we have much to discover in ourselves and can take life’s journey further, into collective, mystical, healing places, if we find and develop the gifts and powers our particular perspective on life can bring us.
“Wherever faeries gather we create a circle of the heart in which souls can shine and healing can happen. We give to each other, learn from each other – finding a communion of love that includes the spirits of nature around us. Whatever our backgrounds, beliefs and practices we create community built on love, openness, joy and celebration of life itself.”